Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain

I had been doing local hikes around the Seattle and Redmond area for a few months now. Did some pretty amazing hikes truth be told — from the beautiful (and long!) Lake Serene to the gorgeous Lake 22. I have a thing for lakes it seems 😅.

I was out most weekends on one hike or the another but still, the heart craved for more. I wanted to do a much longer trip. Glacier National Park seemed to be a perfect candidate with a pretty good distance of 550 miles and hundreds of hiking trails to be explored.

However, the heavy presence of grizzlies and bears was enough to scare the young solo traveler in me.

I hear ya Jaimie! This one is super scary. Oh well, I guess I made the right call after all.

Coming back to the topic of this post. As I said, I wanted to go on a longer trip with a considerable driving distance to get a great road trip experience. I discovered Crater Lake back in March when I was searching for summer weekend getaways. I instantly fell in love with the place!

Note that these initial 2 sections cover a brief history of the Crater Lake and how it came to be known so and also how the Crater Lake National Park came into existence. If you are not interested in this trip way down memory lane, then you can move on to the section called “Basic Itinerary”.

A Brief History 📚

Crater Lake has long attracted the wonder and admiration of people all over the world. Its depth of 1,943 feet (592 meters) makes it the deepest lake in the United States, and the seventh deepest in the world.

Its fresh water is some of the clearest found anywhere in the world. The interaction of people with this place is traceable at least as far back as the eruption of Mount Mazama.

On August 1, 1865, several soldiers and civilians journeyed to see the legendary lake. One of the participants, Sergeant Orsen Stearns, was so awestruck by what he saw that he climbed down into the caldera and became the first non-Native American to reach the shore of Crater lake. Captain F.B. Sprague soon joined him and suggested the name Lake Majesty.

In July 1869, newspaper editor Jim Sutton and several others decided to visit lake Majesty and explore it by boat. Sutton wrote an article describing the trip for his Jacksonville newspaper. Instead of Lake Majesty, Sutton substituted the name – Crater Lake.

Crater Lake … National Park? How? 🌊

In 1870, a young man from Kansas named William Gladstone Steel unwrapped his lunch, carefully contained in a newspaper.

As he ate, he read an article about an unusual lake in Oregon. The story sparked Steel’s imagination and he vowed to see the lake for himself someday.

Two years later, Steel’s family moved to Portland, Oregon; but another thirteen years passed before Steel finally gazed upon the beauty of Crater lake.

He was so moved that he decided that it should forever be a public park.

His seventeen year quest to see Crater lake established as a national park had begun. In 1886, Steel assisted with the mapping of the lake, which had been undertaken by Clarence Dutton for the U. S. Geological Survey.

During the original survey, soundings of the lake were conducted using pipe and piano wire. The maximum depth determined by the survey was 1,996 feet (608 meters), only 53 feet off from the depth of 1,943 feet (592 meters) set by the survey of 2000.

Steel’s proposals to create a national park met with much argument from sheep herders and mining interests.

In 1893, the lake received some protection as part of the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. For Steel, this was not good enough.

He continued to work, and on May 22, 1902, Crater lake finally became a national park.

Basic Itinerary 📔 ✏️

Enough with the history of the place. The fact that this is the deepest lake in North America and also one of the clearest lakes (and bluest!) was enough to fuel my enthusiasm to visit the place.

Crater Lake is about 430 miles from Redmond. This involved roughly 6–7 hours of driving time provided there are no stops in between. I decided to make 2 stops along the way. One in Portland for lunch, which is exactly half-way through to the park and then one more in Eugene to refuel the car.

I wanted to stick to Costco for it’s cheap and good quality fuel and Eugene seemed to have the last Costco stop before entering the last leg of the journey.

The itinerary was pretty sorted except for what I wanted to do at the lake itself 😅 which we’ll get to in a moment.

So the overall plan was to start on the 14th of August early in the morning and reach the park while there’s still some sunlight left. I didn’t plan anything for this day since it was already going to be a very tiring drive. Instead, I had the entire 15th of August to explore the lake, the park, the lookout spots and whatnot. I had planned to return on the 16th. No frills itinerary!

Food 🍩 🍵

Food was definitely going to be a challenge since there aren’t many cafes or restaurants available inside the park itself and the nearest town is good 50–60 miles away which is like a couple of hours of extra driving just for food.

I didn’t fuss around too much on the food. Basically, I planned to stuff myself😂 at the Bollywood Theater — a great Indian restaurant in Portland — and then take some snacks, energy drinks with me for the one day when I’m in the National Park entirely.

There are a couple of cafes inside the park but they had huge lines are not worth it at all especially given the very minimalistic social distancing being done in there 😑

ProTip: Be sure to carry good amount of snacks and drinks, including water with you to the park. Especially given the COVID scenario, there aren’t enough places to fill up water bottles in the park, let alone any other commodity.

Washrooms 💩

Well, yeah… That… So basically, I was prepared to take a leak here and there in cases of emergency inside the park (read extreme emergency!). However, I was grateful for the good washroom hygiene that the Bollywood Theater folks had maintained which happened to be exactly half-way for me.

At the park, there are a bunch of washrooms here and there that are being actively cleaned by the park authorities given that August and September are the peak travel months for the visitors in the park. They didn’t however, have any laundry or shower options at the time.

ProTip: I didn’t need to do this while I was there but it would be great to know where these washrooms are located inside the park beforehand. Some places would be more crowded than the others. It would be great to know which locations can be more isolated and hence, slightly more hygienic.

Lodging 🏡

Its easy to sort out food and washrooms during a multi-day trip. However, it is very difficult to find good, safe lodging during these unprecedented times. You can never be too careful.

That being said, it is difficult to get a good lodging in general near the lake. There are only a couple of official park lodges and they are usually booked a year or so in advance (yes, a year!!).

Then, there is the option of AirBnbs which is a great option. The only problem is that the nearest one is about 90 miles from the lake which personally, is a pain. You’d have to drive about 2 hours just to get to the park in the day and then back again at night. Not an ideal situation for a solo traveler 😏

A great option if you’re the adventurous type is Campgrounds. The Crater Lake National Park has the famous Mazama Campground which has a whole bunch of RV spots and camping spots.

I didn’t want to camp out alone, however, I went ahead and did what seemed unconventional while planning the trip.

I booked an RV spot and decided to park my car in that spot and just sleep in my car for the two nights that I would be in the park.

Every campground site in the Mazama campground has 2 washrooms and they were very well maintained 😃. Another plus point of going with this option was that the campground was < 10 miles from the lake itself.

The beautiful sunset from the Cloucap Overlook
Sunrise, ok maybe not a sunrise 😅 from the Watchman Peak

I only started to see real crowds in the afternoon. The mornings and late evenings were almost deserted which is great for random explorations and hiking.

Day 1 — Anxiety, Thrill, Fear, Bliss! 😠 😱 👄

I was very anxious leading up to Friday the 14th. This was going to be my first multi-day solo trip which included a lot of driving. In other words, this was going to be the longest trip in terms of miles covered. And I was alone… That was a scary thought truth be told 😲

I planned to leave my place around 7a.m. initially. But then, I ended up leaving around 10a.m. since I had to take care of some bank chores that day.

It took around 3 hours for me to get to Bollywood Theater. I didn’t place an order beforehand. I thought I’ll probably park somewhere right before reaching the restaurant and place the order so that it is ready by the time I reach the place.

Anyways, I placed my order when I was 30 minutes away and was stuck in traffic crossing over to Oregon from Washington. The bridge was opening up and the traffic was holed up and I used that time perfectly to place the order. Paneer Makhani, Vada Pav, and Badam Milk. Utter bliss!

After lunch I started towards the next stop which was the Costco gas station in Eugene. Made great progress on the overall route. Next stop, Costco in Eugene which was 100 miles away.

Was so damn sleepy in between and nothing was helping. Not the water, not the songs, not the green tea, not the prospect of ramming into some car/truck. Nothing at all.

The biscuits worked however. They worked like a charm. Not sure why, but they did! Phew! It was fucking difficult to keep my eyes open.

Reached the fuel station by 6:00 p.m. and filled up the tank to the brim. Now the last leg of the journey was left. All the way to Mazama campground 😊

I started on that route and after about 15 minutes, I saw a building which I had seen from the opposite side of the road.

Hmmm, that’s weird, I thought.

Let me check the destination in Google Maps. Of course, it said Bollywood Theater!

So what happened is that the route I had saved had 3 stops. I started that route again rather than continuing the current one and so, it started to take me back to Bollywood theater which was the first stop. Goddammit!

Yeah, damn you Google Maps!

Shit just got real!

I wasted good 30–40 minutes on this because of the detour and also because after I took a U-turn, I got stuck in traffic because there was a forest fire next to the road and the traffic was badly blocked.

The campground was 170 miles away, 3 hours of drive left and I was set to reach by 9 fucking pm.

That was too late because the check-in for the campground closes at 9.

Boy oh boy did I race! I was driving at 85–90 on a 65 limit road. I was driving dangerously at times.

The most thrilling part came after an hour of drive. So I was behind 4 other cars on a single lane each side road. Wanted to overtake them but it was too risky since there were cars coming from the opposite side.

Suddenly, there was an ambulance of sorts that appeared behind my car. I maneuvered my car to the side and waited for it to go away.

Standard procedure, right? All the cars did that.

As soon as the ambulance crossed, I sped like crazy and crossed all 4 cars in a jiffy.

It was surreal, thrilling, dangerous, stupid as hell! Exhilarating to be honest.

Anyways, I was stuck for an hour right after this happened. There was an accident which pushed my eta to 10 p.m. now and I was shit scared of the night.

I kept driving and driving and driving. The sunset happened at 8:30 p.m and I had lost my mobile network around 8 I guess.

My offline Spotify playlist was a God send really. Can’t even explain but the songs in there were damn scary but calming at the same time. I was too anxious since the driving felt like I was going nowhere and just driving away into the abyss.

As it began to get super dark, my mind was flooded with so many questions.

What if the entry to the National Park is closed? (It is usually paid)

What if the entry to the campground closed? What will I do?

Will I keep driving all night long? That would be tiring, wouldn’t it?

Shall I book a spot in some other campground on the way?

“No way” I thought. Let’s keep going and see what happens.

I finally reached the entrance of the park…


It was open! Phew! That was a victory, a small one, but a victory for sure.

The roads inside the national park especially were super scary. Zig-zag, no railings, 7000 feet altitude, no street lights, cars appearing out of nowhere and then there were these stupid ass boards saying:

Drive carefully. A fall here can be dangerous and can kill

Yeah, no shit Sherlock!

I finally reached the campground, found my RV spot listed on a notice board (standard procedure on their website) and quickly parked my card and dozed off for the day. I was too tired since I had spent almost 12 hours on the road. This was turning out to be one hell of a trip already!

Day 2— Lake Majestic!🚤

I got up around 6 a.m. since I wanted to see the sunrise at the lake. I noticed that morning that I was not the only one that had parked a car in the RV spot. Sure, some families were camping out but there were few folks that were also held up inside their cars.

Hmmm, not so blue 😏
In case someone wants the maps link

The 33 mile Rim Drive that travels around Crater Lake’s caldera features spectacular views of the lake and interpretive signage at all of the main vista points. I had planned my hikes and other spots along the Rim Drive for the most parts.

Watchman Peak

So the first stop on my way was the Watchman Peak. The Watchman Observation Station and Watchman Trail are located on the summit of Watchman Peak.

The observation station was designed and constructed as part of the 1920s Crater Lake Master Plan to serve as an interpretive/educational center and as a fire lookout.

The trail is just under one mile long, providing access for park visitors and rangers from the Watchman overlook parking lot (7600 feet above sea level) to the Watchman Observation Station at the summit (8013 feet above sea level).

Can you spot the observation center at the top?</a>

ProTip: This is mostly for solo travelers. Hiking alone might get boring if you’re doing it all day long with not many people on the way. Downloading your favorite songs playlists and listening to them along the hike is a great way to stay pumped and enjoy. However, I did something different this time. I listened to an audiobook of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”.

Imagine hiking in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a raging pandemic, with no internet connection, and listening to stories of how humankind has evolved from the Neanderthals!

The Cleetwood Cove

I spent some good 2 hours just chilling in the Watchman peak area. I even dozed off in the car for sometime since I was exhausted still from the night before. The next stop on my way was the Cleetwood Cove which is probably the most packed and most popular spots along the entirety of Rim Drive.

Visitors are spellbound by Crater Lake’s blue color and mystified by its clarity. For most people, the lake’s beauty is appreciated from viewpoints around Rim Drive, but others desire a closer encounter. Some people want to fish from the shore and others plan to take a boat tour around the lake.

Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only legal access to the shore of Crater Lake. And this is the only spot where you can take a dip and swim in the lake legally!

Cleetwood Cove Trail is a steep and strenuous hike. In 1.1 miles the trail drops 700 feet in elevation through a series of long switchbacks.

As I said, this was the most packed section of the entire Rim Drive. Everybody wants to take a dip in the freezing lake on sizzling hot summer days. This day was no exception. 80% of the people were wearing masks which was a relief.

Swimming in the lake, especially on a hot summer day, can be refreshing and even a bit chilling. During summer the average surface temperature of the lake is 14 degrees Celsius.

Jam packed parking lot for this trailhead!
Hey there!, Can I sit on you?
Bluer than blue! The Crater Lake gets is one of the clearest lakes in the world which imparts the deep blue color you can see here!
Down we go ...
And here we are. This is where people usually branch off to just chill on the rocks nearby or just take a dip in the lake and enjoy the freezing waters.
Can it get any clearer?
Hello there! My faithful companion along the trip (sorry Joey!)

Mt. Scott Trailhead 🌄

The next stop along the way was the Mt. Scott Trailhead. This was the longest hike that I did that day and also the toughest. The mountain top takes you to a whooping 9000 feet which is the highest point in terms of the park elevation.

Deserves to be a bigger picture! This was clicked from a random viewpoint along the Rim Drive while enroute to the Mt. Scott Trailhead.
There, I thought I’ll help you out this time. Now can you see the observation center?
Oh hello…. random….vegetation? 😆

It was a pretty rocky trail all the way to the top. The best part about this trail was that there was nobody on it! Yes, I didn’t spot anyone while going up. There were only 5 cars in the parking lot (along the road, so not really a proper parking lot) for the trailhead.

Uhhh, where else would I go?
Almost there… Run, Run, Run.

To my surprise, there was just one more fellow traveler who was chilling at the top. That person were sitting on a rock and just enjoying the beauty of the valley and the lake. I went ahead and sat on a parallel rock, looking down upon the steep, steep valley below me.

The view was even more spectacular than what this picture can do justice to.

Cloudcap Overlook

The next stop on my route was the Cloudcap Overlook which is a simple pull-out area located on the Eastern Rim of Crater Lake.

It is the highest paved road in the state of Oregon, at an elevation of 8,065 feet. It provides the visitor with a direct, unencumbered view of Crater Lake.

I had planned to head back to the Watchman Peak to view the sunset over the lake since that is one of the best spots for sunrise and sunsets in the park.

However, the trailhead was good 30 minutes away since I was on the other side of the Rim Drive. By the time I would have reached and climbed to the top, the sunset would’ve passed.

I was disappointed since I did not have a backup viewpoint for the oncoming sunset. However, I was blown away after I view the lake from the Cloudcap overlook.

It just so happened that I had stumbled upon one of the best spots (maybe even better than the Watchman Peak) to view the sunset specifically. Again, the photo above doesn’t do justice to the orange and blue colors that we could see. It doesn’t get any better than this.

I spent a good amount of time just engulfed by the beautiful views in front of me. Note that it can get pretty chilly and windy during the evenings and a hoodie/jacket might come in handy here.

I started off back to the campground before it got pitch dark since I wanted to try and take some great photos of the roads and the pink skies.

Pinkora Porealis, anyone?
Sooo good!.

16th August — The return 😢

Well, I packed as much as I could in a single day at the lake. There are great boat tours to the famous Wizard Island as well which are not active right now due to COVID. I had a great night’s sleep after a tiring day and then I woke up again early, around 7a.m.

It was finally time to head back home

Well yeah, I wasn’t really crying but I was sad to leave this serene place behind. This was a major item checked off my travel bucket list and that left me feeling all the more confident to explore not just neighboring states and National Parks, but even places on the other side of America (Hello New York!)

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